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New York Legislators Consider Tuition Waivers for Volunteer First Responders

New York state lawmakers are considering ways to lengthen the state’s roll of volunteer first responders with higher education tuition waivers as incentives.

Jeremy A. CooneyJeremy A. CooneyThe state has experienced a growing shortage in emergency medical service providers, including volunteers, due partly to difficulties recruiting and low pay.

New York experienced a 17.5% decline in active EMS workers, from over 40,000 in 2019 to only 33,000 in 2022, reported New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in “The Growing Role of Counties in Emergency Medical Service.”

State Sen. Jeremy A. Cooney is sponsoring Senate Bill S9033, which proposes an amendment to state education law to provide free SUNY, CUNY, and community college tuition to active volunteer firefighters, volunteer EMS providers, and volunteer auxiliary police officers.

The bill would permit any student in good standing as a volunteer first responder, who eligible for resident tuition rates and maintains at least a 2.5 GPA, to be eligible for the tuition-waiver program.

Costs for tuition vary depending on the institution in New York. For example, in-state community college tuition was around $5,290 in 2023-24.

Other efforts have been made toward addressing the state’s emergency volunteer personnel shortage. Senate Bill S789 was reintroduced in January to extend tuition-free course benefits to volunteer firefighters or volunteer ambulance workers. And a previous proposal, Senate Bill S3360, would have established a volunteer first responder loan forgiveness incentive program to attract and retain volunteer ambulance workers and volunteer firefighters.

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